While imparting their ethical lessons, rabbinic texts often employ vivid images of death, aging, hunger, defecation, persecution, and drought. In Confronting Vulnerability, Jonathan Wyn Schofer carefully examines these texts to find out why their creators thought that human vulnerability was such a crucial tool for instructing students in the development of exemplary behavior.
These rabbinic texts uphold virtues such as wisdom and compassion, propound ideal ways of responding to others in need, and describe the details of etiquette. Schofer demonstrates that these pedagogical goals were achieved through reminders that one’s time on earth is limited and that God is the ultimate master of the world. Consciousness of death and of divine accounting guide students to live better lives in the present. Schofer’s analysis teaches us much about rabbinic pedagogy in late antiquity and also provides inspiration for students of contemporary ethics. Despite their cultural distance, these rabbinic texts challenge us to develop theories and practices that properly address our frailties rather than denying them.